This story appeared in the November issue of the PRC’s Preservation in Print magazine. Interested in getting more preservation stories like this delivered to your door monthly? Become a member of the PRC for a subscription!
The stately Arts and Crafts-style house, built circa 1925 in the Faubourg St. John neighborhood, had seen better days. Once a proud, grand structure, the home, riddled with termite damage and a bad roof, hadn’t been renovated in decades. It was in need of a restoration.
So, too, was its new owner, the actress CCH Pounder.
Pounder, the Emmy-nominated star of NCIS: New Orleans, was widowed in 2016 when her husband of 26 years, anthropologist Boubacar Koné, passed away. For several years, she had been jockeying between her home in Los Angeles and a rented condo in New Orleans, where she plays coroner Dr. Loretta Wade on the popular CBS television show. Averaging nearly 11 million viewers each week, NCIS: New Orleans is now in its sixth season.
Pounder had been house hunting for more than a year when she pulled up in front of the Faubourg St. John property. Walking through the rooms, she felt an immediate connection to the house, with its spacious center hall, decorative plaster work, original pocket doors, double parlors and raised basement.
It also had plenty of large rooms with 12-foot ceilings, a must for Pounder, an avid art collector, patron and former gallery owner, whose personal collection numbers from 500 to 600 pieces. Some of the works, including a pair of 9-foot-tall Anubis statues, just wouldn’t work with short ceilings.
“When I approached it, this house was big and chunky, and it didn’t have a real paint job — well, just the front had been painted,” Pounder recalled. “The owner was here, and she was elderly. I said, ‘You have a lovely home,’ and she nodded.”
No doubt, the property needed work. The bathrooms, kitchen and other areas were outdated. A grand staircase in the center hall led up to a space that was essentially an unfinished attic. A dead rat was on the second floor.
But Pounder wasn’t intimidated. An experienced renovator who had brought four historic homes back to life — including a 1912 center hall in Los Angeles — she knew how to see beyond the flaws.
“I felt something in this house. It was really welcoming,” she said. “On the spiritual end, because I lost my husband, I thought if I find a house and fix a house, I will fix myself.
“I had been living this bicoastal lifestyle (between Los Angeles and New Orleans), which sounds glamorous until you can’t figure out where your papers are or you can’t find the shoes you want to wear because they’re in the other city,” she added, laughing. One day, “I was flying back to New Orleans, and someone said, ‘You’re flying home,’ and I said, ‘Yes.’ And I thought, ‘I guess this is home.’ ”
Walking through this house, that notion of home resonated. “I remember thinking, ‘I can fix you,’ ” Pounder said.
1: CCH Pounder kept some of the original kitchen cabinets and painted them a mossy green. The sculpture on the kitchen island is by artist Woodrow Nash, whose sculptures also are on view at Whitney Plantation. The vase on the kitchen island is by Milo Andersen with Ashby Studio.
2: The dining room is a former porch that was enclosed many years ago. The exterior siding remains on the interior walls. Pounder painted the siding green as a reminder of her home country. She grew up on a sugar estate in Guyana, where the houses were often painted green and white. On the table is a sculpture by artist Thomas Owen. Photos by Liz Jurey.
You may recognize her as Claudette Wyms on The Shield, Queen Mo’at in Avatar or Carolyn Maddox on Law & Order: SVU. Throughout Pounder’s distinguished career, she has been nominated for four Emmy Awards for playing strong, smart, tough characters.
“I don’t know what it is about the timbre of my voice,” Pounder told AARP magazine writer Tim Appelo in 2018, “but it obviously hits the note that makes people go, ‘Sit up straight and behave!’ ”
Off screen and at home, though, the Guyanese-born actress, who went to boarding school in England, is relaxed and charming and not at all as intimidating as the Harvard-educated coroner she portrays on NCIS: New Orleans.
Last spring, as she showed a visitor around her home, she joked that the house, in its pre-renovation state, was “like a fragile little old lady who was very well put together. At some point, you could see, she was quite something. The bones were very good.”
The previous owners had clearly loved the property, but the years had taken its toll. Though the structure dates to 1925, there are records of a sale of the property dating to 1863.
Serving as her own designer for the renovation, Pounder worked with architect John Williams and contractor Victor Rivera to begin stripping away decades of non-historic materials. In the kitchen, old ceramic tile gave way to original hardwood floors.
Acoustical ceiling tiles in the raised basement — which held an apartment when Pounder purchased the house— came down, exposing wooden rafters and making the ceilings feel loftier.
The unfinished third floor, which would become a guest bedroom, meditation room and a den, had original wide-plank wood floors. Pounder had a subfloor installed and then refinished the original wood.
Though every room was updated, the floorplan remained largely unchanged. Only two walls were moved, one in an alcove in the center hall to make room for a bathroom behind it, and one in the kitchen to make it more spacious.
Off the kitchen is the dining room, a long, narrow space that Pounder personalized with subtle nods to her family and upbringing. Originally a porch that was enclosed long ago, the room’s past is still evident in the exterior siding on the interior walls. Pounder had the siding painted a dark green in homage to her childhood home. Born in Georgetown, the capital of Guyana, (when it was British Guiana), she grew up on a sugar estate, where her father worked. The houses there were green and white.
Off the dining room is a half-bathroom wallpapered in a tropical print. In one corner, on top of the wallpaper is a sepia-toned image (rendered as an almost ghostly decal) of Pounder’s father when he was a teenager. “In Guyana, there was a (similar) style of architecture” as New Orleans, Pounder said, “a raised house, same type of wood flooring, a really airy feeling.”
There are other correlations. Georgetown and New Orleans are both below sea level. “Water is ever present,” she said, and there are cane fields and rice fields. “It’s remarkably like Louisiana.”
Pounder left Guyana to go to school in England before moving to the United States in 1970 to earn a bachelor’s degree in fine art with a concentration in drama from Ithaca College.
1: The formal parlors are filled with pieces from Pounder’s art collection, which features works by African artists and those from the African diaspora. Los Angeles artist J. Michael Walker’s drawing, “Rosely Poses,” a sensuous depiction of a woman drawn on a page from a Brazilian map book, hangs on the wall next to the window.
2: The raised basement of the house is now a home gallery and art salon, where Pounder often gathers artists and art lovers.
3: The center hall features several pieces of art. The sculpture on the table is Cotton Head by Yrneh Gabon Brown. Photos by Liz Jurey.
A gallery at home
Acting and art have long been Pounder’s twin passions. Both are well represented in her New Orleans home. A black-and-white photo from the NCIS: New Orleans set hangs above the fireplace in the library off the center hall, and every room in the house is filled with artwork.
Pounder’s collection is largely comprised of work by African artists and artists from the African diaspora. For 15 years, she and her husband, a native of Senegal, owned the Pounder-Koné Art Space, a gallery in Los Angeles. They also founded and built the Musee Boribana, the first contemporary art museum in Dakar. In 2014, the couple donated the museum and its collections to the country.
In New Orleans, Pounder wanted a space that could accommodate much — it couldn’t possibly fit all — of her personal collection and serve as a salon, where she could gather artists and fellow art lovers. The Faubourg St. John house had just the right space: the raised basement.
Formerly an apartment, the basement became a blank slate. The walls are now white, as are the floors, which are painted with a white epoxy that makes them bright and shiny. “It’s what they use in garages,” she said, adding, “I really needed a white box.”
The white box is now filled with striking paintings and sculpture, including a few pieces that had been temporarily loaned in 2017 to Xavier University of Louisiana’s Art Gallery for “Queen: An Exhibition.” The exhibit was a satellite site for Prospect.4, the citywide exhibition of avant-garde sculpture, paintings, photos and installations.
“In reflection, this is something I’ve done in every city I’ve lived in, I’ve dragged art everywhere I have been,” Pounder said.
When she bought the property, the house had three bedrooms and three bathrooms in about 2,400 square feet of living area. Since finishing the attic and transforming the basement into an art salon, it’s now about 6,000 square feet.
Pounder calls it Corentyne Cottage House (a play on her initials CCH), and named after a river in Guyana. “I am living here by a river, the Mississippi, and I lived by a river as a child,” she said. “I like this river to river connection.”
Susan Langenhennig is PRC’s Director of Communications and the editor of Preservation in Print.
Click to expand. Photos by Liz Jurey.